While there are many modern Italian musicians who make great hits, some of the best-known Italian songs are the ones that have had time to sink in. They’ve been used in commercials and on stages around the world, and many non-Italians have heard them, even if they can’t remember where.
Here are some of the most famous Italian songs of all time and what made them successful.
1. Va Pensiero by K&K Opera Choir
Song Year: 2009
One of the most famous Italian songs is “Va Pensiero.”
English-speaking listeners know it better as “The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.”
Guisippe Verdi wrote the famous chorus for his opera Nabucco. He was an expert at composing for large ensembles, so it’s unsurprising that “Va Pensiero” with its strong nationalistic themes took Italy by storm.
It remains the country’s unofficial national anthem.
2. Funiculi Funicula by Joseph Schmidt
Song Year: 1936
“Funiculi Funicula” is a nonsensical Neapolitan song by Luigi Denza. Despite its silliness, several famous composers mistook it for a Neapolitan folksong and integrated it into compositions without permission, including:
It’s one of the best-known Italian songs in America because it features in everything from movies to video games. But North Americans know the song better as “My Tall Silk Hat.”
3. Nel Blu by Domenico Modugno
Song Year: 1958
The story goes that Franco Migliacci wrote “Nel Blu” while waiting for his colleague Modugno to join him on a sea excursion.
Modugno was late, so Migliacci passed the time by drinking wine. When he drifted off to sleep, he dreamed vividly and awoke to find himself face-to-face with several luridly blue paintings.
It’s an unlikely genesis for a song as popular as this one. Its success was such that many prominent artists recorded versions, including:
- Frank Sinatra
- Louis Armstrong
- Luciano Pavarotti
4. O Sole Mio by Brian Adams and Luciano Pavarotti
Song Year: 1998
The title of this famous Italian song translates as “My Own Sunshine.” Here Bryan Adams sings it as a tribute to the great Italian music icon Pavarotti.
It’s another Neapolitan song, and like “Funiculi, Funicula,” it’s a staple of Neapolitan culture.
Crucially, it provided Elvis with the musical inspiration for “It’s Now or Never.” But Elivs wasn’t the only person struck by the melody. Proust made this song even more famous by memorializing it in his book A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, or Remembrance of Things Past.
5. Ombra mai Fu by Cecilia Bartoli
Song Year: 2012
The previous song was about sunshine. In “Ombra Mai Fu,” the speaker confesses their love under the sheltering shade of the plane trees. It stands out because it’s intended for a counter-tenor, the highest male vocal part. But even by their standards, the vocal range is challenging.
Despite being one of the best Italian songs in the operatic repertoire, the German-born composer Handel wrote it for his opera Serse. The opera isn’t set in Italy, either. It’s all about Xerxes and his conquest of Persia.
6. Azzurro by Adriano Celanto
Song Year: 1968
“Azzurro” breaks every Italian musical convention of its time. It’s faster-paced than normal, and its rhythm swings creatively from off-beat to off-beat. That didn’t stop it being one of the best Italian songs of the century.
The off-beat rhythm was catchy and made it an immediate and recognizable success.
7. Felicita by Al Bano and Romina Power
Song Year: 1982
In 1982, Al Bano and Romina Power took second place singing this famous Italian song at the San Remo music festival.
Many consider “Felicita” a secular hymn about enjoying life to its fullest. Espousing sentiments like that, it’s no surprise it took Europe by storm.
Eventually, it won a Golden Globe on the strength of its commercial success, proving it wasn’t only Europe that loved “Felicita.”
8. Caruso by Lucio Dalla
Song Year: 1986
Enrico Caruso was one of classical music’s most famous Italian Tenors. He’s remembered as a prominent part of The Three Tenors and a propensity for doomed love affairs with married women.
Written and performed by Lucio Dalla in 1986, “Caruso” commemorates both these aspects of the famous singer. Its lyrics recount a love affair as doomed as any of Caruso’s.
Additionally, it’s a song written for a tenor. Its musical range requires the singer to land several difficult high notes. Even if it hadn’t achieved the commercial success it ultimately enjoyed, “Caruso” would be a worthy tribute to the man who inspired it.
9. “Ti Amo” by Umberto Tozzi
Song Year: 1977
Umberto Tozzi won Festivalbar singing “Ti Amo.” This famous Italian song quickly spread beyond Italy. So much so that its English lyrics are almost as ubiquitous as the original Italian ones.
Other successful foreign language arrangements included translations into:
10. A far L’Amore Comincia Tu by Rafaella Carrà
Song Year: 1977
“A far L’Amore Comincia” was Rafaella Carrà’s most famous Italian song. It was extremely popular in France and Germany.
One reason the song caught listeners; attention and held it was that it told a story as unconventional as that of the woman singing it. In it, the female speaker encourages her husband to take the lead in their sexual escapades. It was unapologetically erotic and fostered Carrà’s reputation as someone who campaigned for sexual freedom and eroticism.
11. Con Te Partiro by Andrea Boccelli
Song Year: 1997
Despite being a famous Italian song these days, “Con Te Partiro” wasn’t an initial success. Bocelli debuted it at the San Remo Music Festival to minimal interest.
The song didn’t garner much attention until several radio stations picked it up. However, it never had that problem outside of Europe. France and Switzerland fell instantly in love with the song and were responsible for helping it land a Golden Globe.
12. Quando Quando Quando by Tony Renis
Song Year: 1962
Tony Renis wrote many popular jazz hits for singers like Diana Ross. But few had the success of “Quando, Quando, Quando.”
The song is a bossa nova and samba hybrid. That gives it a catchy and immediately distinctive rhythm that makes everyone want to dance. And it was an instant hit not only in Italy but around the world.
13. O Patria Mia by Leontyne Price
Song Year: 1985
Leontyne Price wasn’t an Italian singer, but she was the Metropolitan Opera’s favorite interpreter of Verdi’s Aida.
Like many of Verdi’s most successful operas, the plot blends politics with romance. In “O Patria Mia,” a young woman begs her father not to make her choose between loyalty to her country and the man she loves.
It’s one of the best Italian songs of the classical repertoire, and Price sings it with poignancy and dignity.
14. Parole, Parole by Mina
Song Year: 1972
Initially, Mina and Albert Lupo sang this jazzy Italian favorite as a duet.
It makes the perfect duet because the song is about a love affair gone wrong. The female speaker laments the end of the romance even as her male partner compliments her.
It was equally successful as a French duet and was so popular that even Celine Dion recorded a cover.
15. Amarcord Suite by The Philharmonic Orchestra
Song Year: 1973
Uniquely for this list, “Amarcord Suite” has no lyrics. It’s the theme of Federico Fellini’s movie, Armacord. It’s lyrical, sweeping, and nostalgic. Unsurprisingly, the romantic melody captured the hearts of Italians and North Americans alike.
These days you are as likely to hear the “Amarcord Suite” on a Neapolitan street corner as in the movie theatre.
16. Gloria by Umberto Tozzi
Song Year: 1979
In the famous Italian song “Gloria,” Tozzi sings about an imaginary woman. She fascinates the speaker, who spends his life searching for his ideal.
Friends deride the speaker and think he’s crazy. In a way, he is, but that doesn’t change the fact that the idea of Gloria lessens the misery of the speaker’s life.
It was immediately popular in Italy. When an American version debuted, it was similarly successful and climbed to the top of the Billboard 100 charts.
17. O Mio Babbino Caro by Monserrat Caballé
Song Year: 1990
So far we have discussed several songs by Verdi. The other operatic great when talking about classical verismo is Giacomo Puccini. And one of his most famous Italian arias is “O Mio Babino Caro.”
This achingly romantic song is the operatic highlight of the comic opera Gianni Schichi. It’s full of scheming family members trying to steal their inheritance from a dying man.
It’s a ludicrous plot, but it spawns one of opera’s most famous love songs. As the relatives plot a bit of daylight robbery, a young woman begs her father to let her marry the man she loves. Otherwise, she will throw herself in the Arno.
18. Senza Una Donna by Zucchero
Song Year: 1987
Don’t be deceived by the English lyrics at the beginning. Despite the Anglicized claim by Zucchero to change the world, once the song gets going, the lyrics are thoroughly Italian.
And rightly so. Zucchero was a famous artist even before he collaborated with Paul Young on “Senza Una Donna.”
The title means “Without a Woman.” Perhaps because, at the time it debuted Zucchero was filing for divorce, he didn’t want to include the song on his upcoming album. Luckily he listened to his managers: “Senza Una Donna” remains one of the most famous Italian songs of Zucchero’s career.
19. L’Italiano by Toto Cotugno
Song Year: 1983
Any doubt about the enduring popularity of “Litaliano” as one of the best Italian songs ever written was resolved when it promptly sold over 100 million recordings worldwide.
The song was especially popular with Finnish and Chinese audiences, but they weren’t the only countries to enjoy translations of the original. The slow, ambling melody perfectly represents the Italy of outsiders. It’s a bit relaxed, a bit indulgent, and utterly charming.
20. Mi Mancherai by Josh Groban
Song Year: 2007
Despite its operatic sound, you won’t find “Mi Mancherai” in any opera. Instead, this famous Italian song is part of the film Il Postino.
The title means “I’ll Miss You,” and the impending separation between the speaker and their sweetheart explains those sweeping, operatic overtones that make the melody memorable.
21. Coro di Zingari by Orchestre de Paris
Song Year: 2013
Verdi is back with another of his famous Italian choruses. The popular name for “Coro di Zingari,” from the opera Il Trovatore, is “The Anvil Chorus.”
It’s easy to see how it got its name. The orchestration is punctuated by sharp, percussive raps that sound like anvils. And the singing alternates between staccato notes and long rhythmic phrases. These combine to produce a chorus that sounds like the forge songs blacksmiths used to sing in time to their hammering.
22. Musica è by Eros Ramazzotti
Song Year: 1988
“Musica è” is another of the best Italian songs. It was so successful that it turned Eros Ramazzotti into one of the most famous Italian artists of the 1990s.
The pop song was also popular in Switzerland and Germany. It’s the title song on an album by the same name. It wasn’t Ramazzotti’s first album but it was the first to make him a household name for pop music lovers everywhere.
23. Perdere L’Amore by Massimo Ranieri
Song Year: 1988
When Massimo Ranieri sang ‘Perdere L’Amore” at the 1988 San Remo Music Festival, he immediately captivated audiences.
The song then sat at the top of Italian music charts for the next five weeks and reinvigorated Ranieri’s career. His interpretation of this musical gem remains a staple of Italian music and history.
24. La Bambola by Patty Pravo
Song Year: 1968
Several things combined to make “La Bambola” one of the best Italian songs ever written. Patty Pravo was an excellent singer. That was part of it.
But the other reason for the song’s success was that it challenged conventional romantic expectations of the time. In the song, the female speaker demands better treatment from her partner. He treats her like a doll or a plaything, and it’s not good enough.
The song was a spectacular success, not only in Italy but in:
25. Buonasera Signorina by Fred Buscaliogne
Song Year: 1958
One of the best-known versions of “Buona Serra Signorina” is by Dean Martin. But Fred Buscaliogne’s version with Italian lyrics is also popular.
Typically Italian, it’s also significantly faster and jazzier than Martin’s version. Buscaliogne sings with verve and rapid-fire diction designed to impress. And it does. The impressive artistry creates a catchy, upbeat melody you can’t help snapping your fingers to.
26. Un Bacio a Mezzanotte Quartetto Cetra
Song Year: 1945
The title of this famous Italian song translates as “A Kiss at Midnight.”
To reflect that, its melody is appropriately playful and flirtatious. The refrain is snappy, but the verses use harmony to contrast the men’s shorter phrases with the female lead’s long, sustained melodic line.
It’s a musical flirtation, and it’s contagious. You cannot listen to “Un Bascio a Mezzenotte” and not be charmed.
27. La Solitudine by Laura Pausini
Song Year: 1993
The title of this Italian song means “Loneliness.”
That comes through in the music, with its slow sustained background beat. Pausini’s melodic line is faster and captures the panicked feeling many people experience when completely alone.
It quickly topped Italian music charts and spread across Europe. It was also highly successful in Spanish.
28. Se Vuol Ballare by Bryn Terfel
Song Year: 1998
Despite being the Austrian court composer, Mozart wrote many famous Italian songs because, for years, Italian was the language of high culture.
“Se Vuol Ballare” is an aria from The Marriage of Figaro. The opera was highly controversial because it poked fun at the aristocracy. This aria is the perfect example of how. Its title means “If You Want to Dance,” and the rhythm is appropriately dance-like.
Figaro says he will play the dance tune for his employer, and as he sings, you can practically see him puppeteering his upper-class master. It’s hard to blame him too much: The Count wants to sleep with Figaro’s bride.
29. Vivo Per Lei by Andrea Bocelli
Song Year: 2007
Originally, “Vivo Per Lei” was a famous Italian love song. The speaker talked about living for an anonymous young woman.
But Bocelli wanted to celebrate a successful career, so he reworked the lyrics, making the lyrics about music instead. It was an apt tribute since by then Bocelli’s work had been translated into many languages including:
30. Marina by Rococo Granate
Song Year: 1959
One of the best Italian songs of the 1950s, “Marina” was so popular that it saw an uptick in babies named Marina.
That was true even outside Italy. The Netherlands and Belgium were inundated with Marinas as a result of Granate’s hit song.
It also became the basis of a musical with the same title. It prominently featured Granate’s hit, ensuring it reached an even wider audience.
31. Pui Bella Cosa Che C’È by Eros Ramazzotti
Song Year: 1996
Ramazzotti wrote this song in collaboration with Claudi Guidetti.
Ramazzotti dedicated the song to his then-girlfriend. She was pregnant with their daughter at the time, and Ramazzotti wrote a subsequent song for his child.
The relationship didn’t last, but the popularity of “Pui Bella Cosa” did. It’s still a favorite with Italian music lovers.
32. Bella Ciao by Manu Pilas
Song Year: 2018
“Bella Ciao” started as an Italian folksong. During World War II people sang it to protest Mussolini’s control of the country.
The combination of its catchy melody, enduring popularity, and historic significance combined to make it one of the most famous Italian songs ever performed.
Ostensibly it’s about the impending death of the speaker. But it remains a revolutionary anthem for people around the world.
33. Casta Diva by Maria Callas
Song Year: 1949
Bellini’s opera Norma is full of contradictory emotions, and nowhere more prominently than in “Casta Diva.”
The title means “Chaste Goddess,” apt since Norma is a druid priestess. She’s also passionately in love with a Roman soldier and the mother of his children.
Part of what made “Casta Diva” and Maria Callas famous was the use of the bel canto technique. This is a famous Italian approach to singing designed to sound like the singer doesn’t need to breathe.
Callas comes as close as anyone to making that the reality. She spins out long sustained phrases effortlessly.
34. “Solo Noi” by Toto Cugno
Song Year: 198o
“Solo Noi” is another famous Italian song by musician Toto Cugno.
Its success wasn’t limited to Italy. It was also popular in Europe and North America, so much so that it was covered by:
- Roy Orbison
- Nino de Angelo
The lyrics track the decline of a relationship. As the song progresses it shifts from scenes of domesticity to heartbreak and loneliness.
35. Laura Non C’E by Nek
Song Year: 1996
“Laura Non C’e” or “Laura Isn’t Here” is a well-known Italian pop-rock song. Nek released it as part of their 1996 album to tremendous success.
In addition to being popular in Italy, it achieved musical notoriety in Latin America and Europe.
Versions also appeared in English, French, and Spanish though none of them enjoyed the same success as Nek’s original composition.
36. Via Con Me by Paolo Conte
Song Year: 1984
Paolo Conte is a famous Italian singer and composer with a love of jazz and swing music.
His most famous Italian song is “Via Con Me” better known to Americans as “Come Away With Me.”
It’s a jazzy number itself and tells the story of a doomed romance. One of its most obvious homages to the jazz tradition is its blend of words like “S’Wonderful” with scat singing.
But don’t be fooled. It’s interspersed with Italian lyrics that are half-spoken half-sung in keeping with some of the older blues conventions.
Not only was “Via Con Me” a runaway success, but it’s also Conte’s favorite song. He’s recorded it many times live and in the studio since its debut.
37. Città Vuota by Mina
Song Year: 1963
“Citta Vuota” or “It’s A Lonely Town” was the song that gave Mina’s career its start. It’s an arrangement of an equally popular American song. But for Mina, the strings and orchestration slowed down.
That allowed Mina to make the most of the lavish phrasing. Her warm vocals give this story of lost love a nostalgic feel. It’s never indulgent, though in lesser hands it could be.
Mina sings with a combination of gusto and reminiscence that fits her voice beautifully.
38. E Amore un Ladroncello’ by Kathryn Rudge
Song Year: 2015
The title of this famous Italian song means “Love Is a Little Thief.” In Mozart’s confection of the opera Cosi Fan Tutte that’s exactly what it is. Here it sneaks in to steal the heart of Dorebella, who succumbs to the charms of a foreign stranger despite being engaged already.
It alternates between playful, upbeat sections and agonizing over Dorebella’s former sweetheart. It’s Mozart at his wittiest and features excellent word painting throughout.
Today the plot, which hinges on the assumption that women are inherently fickle, is a controversial one. But that doesn’t stop the music used to tell the story from being some of the best Italian songs in the repertoire.
39. Tu Vuò Fà L’Americano by Renato Carosone
Song Year: 1956
Renato Carsone wrote “Tu Vuò Fà L’Americano ” with Nicola Salerno. The famous Italian song blends traditional jazz and swing music.
It was also Carsone’s most successful song. It featured in several films, including:
- Totò, Peppino e le Fanatiche
- It Started In Naples
- The Talented Mr. Ripley
The song playfully satirizes a lifestyle particular to post-war Italy, where many Italians strove to emulate the American way of life. However, the subject of the song does all this while depending on his parents for money, so he’s less carefree and independent than he imagines.
Despite its enduring success, Carsone retired in 1960, four years after composing “Tu Vuo Fà L’Americano.”
40. Ch’Il Bel Sogno Di Doretta by Kiri Te Kanawa
Song Year: 1990
“Chi Bel Sogno Di Doretta” is a song from Puccini’s late opera La Rondine. Interestingly, it’s a song within the context of the opera. Fickle-hearted Magda sings it for her guests at a dinner party.
It was always a famous Italian song, but it became double so when it appeared in the 1985 adaptation of A Room With a View.
Throughout the opera, the heroine Magda is repeatedly compared to a swallow. Te Kanawa demonstrates why as she makes her high notes float into the stratosphere.
41. Nessun Dorma by Luciano Pavarotti
Song Year: 1994
Finally, no list of famous Italian songs would be complete without Pavarotti’s signature song, “Nessun Dorma.”
It comes from Puccini’s final, unfinished opera Turandot. The hero Calaf sings it while madly struggling to find the answer to Turandot’s final riddle. If he gets the answer wrong, he will lose his head.
Calaf’s not worried; He’s confident he can answer the riddle and get the girl.
The song was already famous for its challenging tenor range. Pavarotti made it even more famous by making it accessible to the layperson. His performance was so astonishing that you didn’t have to like opera to be impressed.
It proved opera wasn’t the preserve of the upper classes and helped put a technically demanding classic on the musical map.
Best Italian Songs, Final Thoughts
Famous Italian songs span an amazing range of genres. Some people hear Italian music and immediately associate it with the tradition of grand opera.
But there’s a wealth of jazz, folk, and pop music from Italy. Some of it is even more famous than the more classical music.
Their themes are as varied as their styles and range from romance to patriotism. What unites them is the long history of music in Italy.